An interesting essay taken from the April 2013 issue of Dazed, as part of the Last Shot archive series:
Israeli-born, NYC-based artist Rona Yefman loves to flirt with the line between reality and fantasy. In the mid-90s her youngest brother Gil became her muse as she embarked on an intimate documentation of his unique adolescence, during a period of struggle and recovery for both of them. Isolating themselves from the conflict zone in which they were raised, the siblings created a private dream-world, fuelled by dress-up and psychological games. As they rejected societal and familial norms, their lives became a real-life version of Jean Cocteau’s infamous tale of sibling love and poison, Les Enfants Terribles. Yefman’s project spans 14 years, and includes an intimate look at Gil’s sexual transformation into life as a female, and his eventual re-transformation back to life as a biological male. A chronological photobook of the images, Let it Bleed, published by Little Big Man soon.
“This picture was taken around 2001 in our garden, while our parents were on vacation. As far as I remember, out of boredom we spontaneously took our clothes off and took naked photos under the grapefruit tree – a favourite spot. The picture was taken with a cable release – it’s hiding under my feet!
The project, “Gil and I”, is largely about relationships, inventing oneself in the world, and not accepting reality that you don’t feel you fit in. It’s about the connection and the difficulty of growing up. There’s a lot of confusion when you’re young because you’re not sure exactly what you’re doing or how it will turn out. But I’ve learned from Gil that no matter what you can still dance and play and be together. We created a fantasy world that actually became the reality of our existence. The camera is really a good tool for learning self awareness, and through taking pictures we were discovering ourselves, creating characters, and telling a story. It was about creating a tension between the image and the viewer. For as much as this project is a personal representation of our lives, it’s also about the viewer’s mind and imagination.
The first images were shot in a tent made of bedsheets, where Gil and I spent much of our time. It was like a womb, the start of our journey. Some of the project was shot when during a time when it was not safe to do what Gil was doing – to live as a woman in public – especially in Israel. But our parents just accepted the way she was and supported her.
I’ve never been sure what it means to be a female – I’ve always resisted the traditional gender roles and aesthetic – so I related to Gil and supported her to fulfill her fantasy. But the transformation process doesn’t happen in one day; you have to live through it. The way Gil put it during an interview that we did then was: , “…It’s a bit like breaking apart everything you’ve been raised on, and everything you’ve understood, to really achieve a state of basic chaos, of not knowing anything, even who you are”…
After a while, Gil decided to make the journey back to living life as a male. Ultimately he told me that the prison of the female body is no different than the prison of the male body.
As a protagonist Gil is a natural. I feel immense appreciation for his braveness, the greatness of his talent and inspiration, his generous collaboration and his endless support. Thanks to our close relationship and continuing dialogue all those years, we managed to do this work. Today, through his life and work as an artist, Gil continues to search for ways to live life outside of this prison.”